Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sign of the times

"Temporary" refugees and immigration policy

A reader asked if there are any Cuba provisions in the immigration bill that passed the Senate today (see link in this article from Politico).

There are none, which is is a little surprising because last January Senator Rubio said it was going to be “impossible” to debate a comprehensive immigration bill “and not talk about whether or not there should be changes in the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

But on Tuesday the Senator noted that Cuba had not come up at all in the immigration debate.  Asked by the St. Petersburg Times how he would propose to change the treatment of Cuban nationals in U.S. immigration law, he said it is “something I need to study more carefully.”

When Senator Rubio and others were making their statements early in the year, I supposed that they wanted to do what former Rep. David Rivera had proposed, which was to punish Cubans who would travel back to Cuba before acquiring citizenship, i.e. in their first five or six years after arriving (see here and here).  We’ll see if Rep. Diaz-Balart puts a Cuba provision into the House bill.

Senator Rubio on Tuesday repeated his old canard about his own constituents, saying that it is “very difficult to justify someone’s status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again.”

There’s no such thing as “exile” status in U.S. immigration law.  As for refugees and asylees, the only categories of immigration where admission to the United States depends on stating a well founded fear of persecution, they account for only about ten percent of Cuban immigrants. 

But those facts don’t stop Senator Rubio from inferring that his constituents are hypocrites.  He repeatedly accuses them of violating a claim they never made.

When it comes to actual refugees, he does have a point.  But what would he do with a new type of refugee, the family of the late dissident leader Oswaldo Paya, who recently came to the United States? 

At first blush it appeared that they had pulled up stakes and abandoned Cuba for good. 
But Rosa Maria Paya, Oswaldo’s daughter, said that isn’t so. 

“We arrived as political refugees, but we are here on a temporary basis,” she said in Miami.  She says there is “no restriction of any kind” on their returning to Cuba.  “We could do it.  We have our Cuban passports valid for two years.” 

First, welcome to America.

Now let’s figure out what this means for Senator Rubio and the problem he is wrestling with.

The liberalization of Cuba’s policy regarding its own citizens’ travel abroad has resulted in many dissidents traveling abroad to speak their mind, gather support, learn, and just see the world.

The Paya family takes things to a new level by having residences in both places and intending to move back and forth as they see fit.  (And, incidentally, being eligible for a whole set of U.S. government benefits especially during their first year: health care, food assistance, education and job training assistance, and more.)

As Alejandro Armengol puts it:

“Thus the opposition has just brought about the possibility of entering and leaving Cuba by season, keeping homes in both countries and letting the time pass and the Castro brothers die, and then seeing if the future in Cuba is brighter or darker.  To say it in Cuban: to dodge the storm, any storm.  Meantime, with residency assured thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the young ones start a new life and build a future in a country that has suddenly converted itself into a sort of foster home for children and a social services agency for those of advanced age.  All this without a need to make any commitment to the nation that serves as the country of adoption for purposes of benefits, but not for purposes of making a citizenship commitment.”

Harsh, but true.

Back to Senator Rubio. 

The Payas say they are going to continue their political activism, and surely Senator Rubio wouldn’t want to deny them the opportunity to return to Cuba to do that.  So he could propose that we return to the Bush era of restricting Cuban-American travel, but this time with a new exemption for the Payas and others who engage in the right kind of political activity in Cuba.  There could be new monitoring mechanisms and licensing requirements to prevent abuse.  Maybe we could hire officials from Cuba who used to evaulate applications for exit permits, examine letters of invitation, investigate and interview potential travelers, etc.  They have experience administering travel controls, and lots of time on their hands.

Or, more seriously, he could come to terms with the changes in his own neighborhood. 

The Cuban American community is not an exile community anymore; those who consider themselves exiles are now only one part of the community.  With the freedom afforded by new policies of both governments, it turns out that many Cubans like to go back and forth.  And a growing number – the Payas being the latest example – like having a home on both sides.  Exile is a state of mind, and it is none of U.S. government’s business to impose it on Cuban immigrants through our immigration policy.

On the other hand, Senator Rubio’s speeches on freedom and limited government are really terrific.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No Snowden in Havana

Until yesterday it appeared that Edward Snowden, the rat on the run for divulging U.S. government secrets, might depart Russia for a life of political asylum in Ecuador, making a brief stop on our favorite island.  But the Moscow-Havana Aeroflot flight took off without him, and his plans and whereabouts are as unclear as ever.  Today, Russian officials are denying that he is even there. 

(Update: President Putin confirms that he’s in Russia and won’t be extradicted.)

Cuba has not been mentioned as an asylum option.  Is that because Cuba has been asked and said no?  Anya Landau French dug up the State Department’s terrorism report for 2005 where the section that justifies Cuba’s designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism” includes this statement: “Cuba has stated that it will no longer provide safe haven to new U.S. fugitives who may enter Cuba.”  That’s a pretty clear statement of Cuban policy, not something that Bush Administration officials would have included casually.  If it applies now, and if it bars layovers as well as long-term stays, then Snowden needs a Plan B, big time.

There has been no Cuban government statement on the matter.  This article in yesterday’s Granma simply rounds up the news about Snowden without mentioning speculation that he might transit Cuba on his way to Quito.

The reason Snowden is having to hop-scotch around the world is that the United States has agreements with many countries that would require them to turn Snowden over.  And in the absence of agreements, we have relationships with many countries that are sufficiently strong that they would be open to a request from Washington.  Add up the two categories of countries, and Snowden’s options narrow.

The United States and Cuba do have an extradition agreement in force, dating from 1904.  But it is a dead letter because neither side has honored its terms for years.  From the first weeks of Cuba’s revolution, the United States refused to hand over persons sought by Cuba, and Cuba has fugitives from U.S. justice that it has refused to hand over.

Since extradition agreements are based on reciprocal obligations, and since the United States thinks little of Cuba’s justice system, it is unlikely that the United States would seek to revive an extradition agreement with Cuba.  Even in cases where we have agreements, some do not apply to all crimes.  As we saw in the Ana Montes case, Montes’ alleged accomplice Marta Rita Velazquez is safely out of reach of U.S. law in Sweden because our extradition agreement with that country excludes political crimes, a category that includes espionage.

But what if we did negotiate with Cuba?  Each side would carve out exceptions from the obligation to extradict, and the agreement might exclude past cases such as Luis Posada Carriles and JoAnn Chesimard.  Even if it’s an agreement full of holes, it would be worth it if it complicates the life and travels of the next Edward Snowden.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A course for entrepreneurs

On her Twitter feed, Yoani Sanchez posts a photo of a sign announcing a training course for entrepreneurs in a Santiago church.

Tampa speaks up

Miami-Dade is the U.S. capital of engagement with Cuba, with dozens of flights per week filled mainly with Cuban Americans.  Many of those flights require a second cargo-only plane to carry passengers’ excess baggage, a large and uncounted stream of U.S. exports to Cuba.  Cuban Americans have responded enthusiastically to openings in Cuba, helping relatives there open businesses and acquire real estate, so much so that a friend of mine calls Miami-Dade one of Cuba’s largest trading partners. 

But Miami’s political leadership still represents, with the partial exception of Rep. Joe Garcia, the views of those Cuban Americans who oppose all engagement with Cuba.

Tampa’s engagement with Cuba is far less than Miami’s, although its connections with Cuba are far deeper, going back more than a century to the days when Jose Marti went there to seek the local Cuban community’s support for Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain.

In contrast to Miami, Tampa’s political and business leadership stands up for engagement with Cuba and wants more of it.  Three city council members just joined the Tampa Chamber of Commerce in a trip to Cuba.  How strong is the political push?  Look at Rep. Kathy Castor’s April letter to President Obama calling for a comprehensive reform of Cuba policy. 

What is the trend?  It would be wrong to underestimate the strength of the pro-embargo forces – note Congressional voting patterns, the Florida legislature’s passage of legislation to punish firms that do business with Cuba, and the fact that Senator Nelson remains in Miami’s camp, not Tampa’s. 

But the changes taking place are important.  No other state has stood so strong for the Cuba embargo, and the strength of its argument in presidential politics was sapped by the 50-50 split in the Cuban-American vote in the 2012 election.  Tampa’s argument for change based on economic and foreign policy interests can only augur well for the future.

Odds and ends

  • Herald: One of Rep. Joe Garcia’s staffers is gone and another is on leave after the feds searched their homes in an election fraud probe.  During last year’s Democratic primary election they allegedly went on-line, using computers with masked IP addresses, to request absentee ballots in the names of hundreds of voters.  It is not clear from any of the articles how they planned to obtain the absentee ballots, once issued.  In the event, authorities smelled something fishy and did not act on the requests.  Garcia says he did not know of the scheme.  He is cooperating in the investigation and conducting his own investigation, and while he is angry about the scheme, he said: “I think it was a well-intentioned attempt to maximize voter turnout.”  Strange.  The primary was already marred by apparent fraud in the case of David Rivera’s straw-man candidate Justin Lamar Sternad.  Now it appears to be bipartisan.

  • Herald: The Florida law designed to punish the Brazilian firm Odebrecht for the business it does in Cuba was struck down by a federal appeals court.  Earlier note on the Florida law here.

·         Progreso Weekly interviews Jorge Pinon of the University of Texas on Cuba’s energy future.  Note his comments on ethanol, the untapped resource that could revive sugar production, creating jobs and producing by his estimate 70,000 barrels of the fuel per day.  See also Reuters on the Russian company Zarubezhneft that is abandoning a deep-water exploration project and says it will be back next year.

  • El Pais on the difficult story of the 115 Cuban dissidents who were released from jail and went to Spain (along with 650 relatives) in 2011: “big intentions, insufficient planning, too many surprises, and very few resources.”

·         Diario de Cuba: Cuba’s national baseball team will come to the United States to play a few games next month.  As for Cubans in the majors, the Dodgers called up outfielder Yasiel Puig and he’s not doing badly, hitting a grand slam last night; see also here and here.

  • JTA: Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross settled his lawsuit with DAI, his employer, and his separate suit against the U.S. government was dismissed.  There’s more at Along the Malecon.  CNN reports that Cuba will permit a U.S. doctor to examine Gross; last September his family requested such an examination.

·         Havana Times has an English translation of an interview that the BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg did with Rene Gonzalez, one of the “Cuban Five” intelligence agents who completed his sentence in the United States and has returned to Cuba.

  • El Pais interviews economics professor Carmelo Mesa-Lago on the economic reforms in Cuba.